Joie de Vivre: Why I Love the Ryder Cup

Since I already started one post this week with a look-back to the fall of 1999,* why not another? The 1999 Ryder Cup was one of the greatest sports moments of my life — I’ve never rooted harder for an American team in international competition. When Justin Leonard’s putt back-rimmed and fell, well, that was just about the happiest I’ve ever been about a golf event.

*And while we’re at it, remember this from last year?

Ever since, the Ryder Cup has been one of my three to five favorite sporting events.*

*It’s particularly difficult for me to rank the Ryder Cup because of its biennial nature. As it stands, I look forward to it more than I do the Super Bowl, but if it were every year, this would certainly not be the case.**

**March Madness is indisputably No. 1.

What makes the Ryder Cup so appealing, and why am I particularly amped for today’s conclusion? Let’s count:

1. It’s unlike anything else in golf.

I’ll start with the caveat that there are various other competitions that are, in format, almost exactly like the Ryder Cup (the President’s Cup, the Solheim Cup, the Walker Cup, etc.). But none of these things matter.

The Ryder Cup is totally different from the regular golf we see from week to week in several distinct ways. Obviously, it’s a team event played for one’s country/continent, and this amps up the pressure immensely. Golf is already the sport in which pressure plays the largest role;* the game requires such fine mechanics that minute changes in a swing can lead to major errors. Outside of the Olympics, there is no more pressure-packed event in sports than Sunday singles at the Ryder Cup. They are mesmerizing to watch because anything can happen. Different players respond to the specific pressure of the Ryder Cup in different and surprising ways. Colin Montgomerie, for instance, was known for being unable to finish in major championships or on U.S. soil — yet he’s the greatest Ryder Cupper of the modern era, if not all-time.** Lee Westwood has been the best player in the Ryder Cup for much of the last decade, even as he’s endured an especially undulating career trajectory.

*Only women’s tennis can really have a beef here, to which I would respond that’s only because women are more vulnerable to pressure than men, to which you’d say I’m sexist, at which point we’d just have to agree to disagree.

**I also love the term “Ryder Cupper.”

Furthermore, match play in all its iterations — singles, foursomes, and fourballs* — shifts the nature of golf from a conflict between man and course to one between man and man. It makes golf more like tennis, and this is a good thing.

*I’d rank them in that order.

2. The crowds are electric.

I can’t imagine a gallery ever being louder than it was at Brookline in ’99. I mean, that place sounded like ARCO Arena in the early Aughts. The crowds are so much more into the Ryder Cup because there are true rooting interests, whereas in most golf events, there’s a handful of players you’d like to see do well, and you’re indifferent about nearly everyone else. There is no indifference in the Ryder Cup.

Additionally, the players feed off the crowds (and vice versa) in a way that’s otherwise considered unsportsmanlike during regular golf events. Only in the Ryder Cup can you really pump the crowd up or put your hand to your ear and play to the gallery. And it doesn’t take long to realize how much this means to the players, who often dream of simply playing in the Ryder Cup the same way they dream about winning a major championship.* Even though the entire event is played for no money whatsoever, it’s arguably the one the players care about the most.

*Over the last few years, multiple players have come out and said that making the Ryder Cup team means more to them than winning a major (Kenny Perry and Bubba Watson).

3. The NBC Theme Music

Since there are fewer players on the course in the Ryder Cup than in a normal tournament, the coverage goes to commercial a lot more. This would generally be bad news, except that NBC’s going-to-commercial Ryder Cup music is, without argument, the greatest music used in sports broadcasts ever ever ever. I feel about NBC’s Ryder Cup music the way Canadians think they feel about TSN’s old Hockey Night in Canada music. And those people want that to be the national anthem.

(You can hear snippets of the NBC theme music in the clip above; the good stuff starts about the 4:30 mark.)

So enjoy Ryder Cup Sunday, folks. It’s the best-kept secret in sports.

3 responses to this post.

  1. […] Lang Syne « Joie de Vivre: Why I Love the Ryder Cup Bob Dylan in America: Out of Many, One […]


  2. Posted by Teddy T on September 30, 2012 at 5:38 PM

    who the hell wrote and what is the name of the Ryder Cup theme music? I can’t find it any where!


  3. […] The U.S. blew it again in the Ryder Cup, which Tim still loves. […]


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